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The Fight Corner: The L.A. boxing scene will be busy in the first part of 2019

The Fight Corner: The L.A. boxing scene will be busy in the first part of 2019
A bloodied but smiling Leo Santa Cruz sits in his corner between rounds before eventually beating Kiko Martinez by TKO during their World Featherweight Championship bout at the Honda Centerin Anaheim. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, my name is Lance Pugmire, and welcome to our weekly boxing/MMA newsletter. This newsletter will be delivered right to your inbox every week if you sign up here. Let’s get right to the news.

The new broadcast relationship between Premier Boxing Champions and Fox will include two title-bout cards in Los Angeles during the first quarter of 2019.

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Featherweight world champion Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 knockouts) of Los Angeles will defend his World Boxing Assn. belt Feb. 16 against Mexico’s Miguel Flores (23-2, 11 KOs) at a venue to be determined.

The co-main event on that card will be a welterweight meeting between gritty Southland fighter John Molina Jr. and Texas’ former world lightweight champion, Omar Figueroa Jr.

On Fox’s cable sports network FS1, Jose Uzcategui (28-2, 23 KOs) will make his International Boxing Federation super-middleweight mandatory title defense against Caleb Plant (17-0, 10 KOs) on Jan. 13 at L.A. Live’s Microsoft Theater.

The renewed Fox-PBC deal launches Dec. 22 with a card at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center featuring unbeaten twins Jermall and Jermell Charlo. Jermell Charlo will defend his World Boxing Council super-welterweight belt against Tony Harrison on that card.

A news conference revealing a slew of Fox-PBC fights begins Tuesday afternoon with 28 boxers scheduled to appear as the network reveals a string of cards.

The deal, intended to capitalize on increased boxing interest by furthering its exposure on network television, allows Fox to retain its attachment to combat sports following the UFC’s 2019 move to ESPN and its string of networks.

While PBC founder and powerful boxing manager Al Haymon previously was tied to some networks with time-buy arrangements, Fox is paying the license fees for the bouts in this deal while Haymon remains in business with premium cable provider Showtime for other bouts, including the Dec. 1 heavyweight title fight between WBC champion Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury at Staples Center.

But Fox is joining in the pay-per-view business with a planned March 16 welterweight title defense at AT&T Stadium in Texas by unbeaten IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. against unbeaten four-division champion Mikey Garcia, an Oxnard-raised product who trains in Riverside.

As for the Southland fights, Tijuana’s Uzcategui will meet Plant after the challenger rose to mandatory status with four consecutive victories by unanimous decision.

Promoted by Haymon’s rival Bob Arum, Uzcategui took a non-title light-heavyweight bout Sept. 28 in Oakland, emerging with a lackluster triumph by unanimous decision over Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna.

Santa Cruz, following his June repeat triumph over Southland rival Abner Mares at Staples Center, returns to action against the little-known Flores, 26, who has fought just once this year and typically competes in Texas.

Santa Cruz has taken heat before for being assigned lesser competition by Haymon (after whom the boxer named his son), and this bout will renew that criticism. The effort to place Santa Cruz in a unification meeting against WBC featherweight champion Gary Russel Jr. was unsuccessful.

Still, the Feb. 16 co-main should soothe any disappointment over a predictable outcome in the main event.

Texas’ Figueroa (27-0-1, 19 KOs) and La Verne’s Molina are both aggressive punchers. Figueroa has only fought once since 2015, defeating former champion Robert Guerrero in July 2017.

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Molina (30-7, 24 KOs) was due to fight former welterweight champion Victor Ortiz earlier this fall in Ontario, but Ortiz was arrested on rape charges and the fight was scrapped.

Former junior-welterweight title challenger Molina participated in the 2014 fight of the year against Lucas Matthysse at StubHub Center.

Fighter of the year?

Ukrainian cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk polished his credentials as the most successful boxer of 2018 on Saturday by unleashing a devastating left hand that knocked out former champion Tony Bellew in the eighth round in Manchester, England.

On top of retaining the four cruiserweight belts he won earlier this year by defeating Mairis Briedis and previously unbeaten Murat Gassiev to win the inaugural World Boxing Super Series competition, Usyk (16-0, 12 knockouts) is now ripe to move to heavyweight.

Usyk sat ringside earlier this year to watch three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, who also fights for the new streaming service DAZN, and the Ukrainian serves as a capable challenger who would allow Joshua to further delay a showdown with Deontay Wilder should Wilder defeat Fury on Dec. 1.

Because there’s little doubt at this hour that Usyk, who trains in Oxnard alongside his close friend and lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, is the front-runner to win the Boxing Writers Assn. of America honor as fighter of the year.

Interesting gesture

Floyd Mayweather Jr. had quite a week around Los Angeles after posting on Instagram that he was effectively duped in a news conference that strongly suggested he was to fight a 20-year-old kickboxer in Japan on New Year’s Eve.

Mayweather said he was under the impression the event was supposed to be an exhibition to occur before a minimum group of high rollers.

Sitting courtside at last week’s Lakers-Minnesota Timberwolves game, I spoke briefly to Mayweather. He declined to immediately discuss the situation in Japan before a friend of his recognized me from the coverage of Mayweather’s 2015 victory over Manny Pacquiao.

“We’re going to do that again … ,” I said.

Mayweather heard that, and shook his head in a “no” motion.

Until next time

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